You can’t walk another step, you feel a thunderstorm brewing, and it’s time to refill your energy stores. You need to find a safe and comfortable spot to make camp for the night. Here’s how to choose.
Where to Start Looking for a Spot
Hollows and valleys are generally the wettest, coldest, and foggiest spots for camping locations. Higher ground means rain will run off and is less likely to gather in your campsite.
Think about how long you’re planning on staying. If it’s just for a night you won’t need much room but you’ll need to stretch out and walk around if you’ll be in the area for more than a few days.
Look for small game trails, evidence of foot traffic from animals or people, and insect nests. Some you can’t avoid, but don’t put yourself in a place that’s a highway for animals or people that you might disturb.
If you’re on rocky terrain, be mindful of ledges that might pose a danger if you’re moving around at night. These areas can also be home to snakes and other critters.
Trees Can be a Friend and an Enemy
Don’t just look for shade. Some trees have dangling branches that could blow over and impale you, or destroy your belongings. If want to be near a tree, discern whether it’s safe enough to settle under first.
If you’ll need to dry clothes or hang bear-bags with food, look for branches that will be sturdy but are higher off the ground.
Be certain there’s enough space between you and a tall tree. Tall trees are magnets for lighting strikes. Keep an eye on low hanging branches that can pose a danger to eyes and your face when moving around in low light.
Where to Put Your Shelter
Steer clear of tall grass. The reason? Ticks, ants, and other pesky insects thrive in tall blades of grass, which could give you a real dose of misery.
If you can, set up your tent on a durable surface like rock, bare ground, sand, or gravel to protect fragile areas. Kick away any sticks and rocks that can bug you as you sleep. Try to avoid being on an incline, since you might find sleeping slanted pretty uncomfortable.
Before night falls look around for escape routes and potential cover. If you need to bolt for any reason during the night you’ll need to know where to go.
Water’s Benefits and Dangers
A smart bit of advice is to camp at least 200 feet away from water. Any river or stream can unpredictably flood if conditions are right. Also, land close to water tends to be marshy. This brings up another great tip — not being close to water helps in avoiding an area thick with mosquitoes another insects attracted to water.
Look for access to clean water that’s moving. Stagnant water brings lots of bugs and bacteria. If you’re staying long-term, look for an area in which you can collect rainwater.
Research Any Required Permits or Permission
You may need to have a backcountry permit if you’re on land that’s a state or national park. You’ll need to apply for backcountry permits ahead of time or you may find yourself face to face with a very unhappy hiker or ranger.
If you’re on private property, get permission to camp. If the land owner finds you snuggled up without permission you could face fines and possible criminal charges.
Follow these tips and you’ll find yourself a campsite that you won’t want to leave. Always treat every campsite with respect and leave it cleaner than when you arrived.